book: Paris Requiem (2001) by Lisa Appignanesi

It’s 1899 and Paris is readying itself for the Exposition Universelle of that year. Widowed lawyer James Norton arrives from Boston with strict instructions from his mother to extract his younger brother Raf from a potentially disastrous liaison with a — gasp! — Jewish actress, Olympe Fabre (the former Rachel Arnhem), and to bring both Raf and disabled sister Ellie back home to her. But James soon finds himself caught up in fin de siecle Paris as the two brothers, alongside Inspector Durand of the Paris Police Prefecture and the enigmatic aristocrat Marguerite de Landois, investigate the murder of Olympe and other Jewish women. With the Dreyfuss affair very much in the public attention, passions — both antisemitic and liberal — are rising high in the city as the investigation exposes the seamier elements of Parisian life: prostitution, sex trafficking, exploitation of the weak and feeble-minded, antisemitism, murder . . .

Appignanesi succeeded in Continue reading

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Feet of Clay (1960)

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“So I gave her wings!”
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UK / 56 minutes / bw / Danziger, UA Dir: Frank Marshall Pr: Edward J. Danziger, Harry Lee Danziger Story: Mark Grantham Cine: Jimmy Wilson Cast: Vincent Ball, Wendy Williams, Hilda Fennemore (i.e., Hilda Fenemore), Robert Cawdron, Brian Smith, Angela Douglas, Alan Browning, Sandra Alfred, David Courtney, Jack Melford, Ian Wilson, Howard Lang, Lawrence Ireland, Arnold Bell, Edith Saville.

As with Monogram or PRC in the US, the name of the UK Poverty Row studio Danzigers was rarely a guarantee of any great quality, but often enough you got a perfectly amenable mediocrity and, every now and then, you got a jewel. This was one of the jewels—or, perhaps more realistically, a diamond in the rough.

Vincent Ball as David Kyle.

Wendy Williams as Fay Kent.

When probation officer Angela Richmond (Saville) is stabbed in a dark alley in London’s docklands, the workers within the legal system, from beat cops to judges, are horrified: Richmond was “The Angel of the Police Courts,” the golden-hearted woman who sponsored the release of young offenders from custodial sentences and gave them the opportunity to build a life.

Alan Browning (right) as Inspector Gill.

The constable (Ireland) on patrol near the alley where the murder was committed saw young Jimmy Fuller (Smith) fleeing from the scene, and Continue reading

o/t: leisure reading for April

A fair number of books read this past month, although three of them are novellas and some of the others are relatively short. The links are as ever to my notes on Goodreads; however, in accordance with the New Policy, the last four pieces have been crossposted here.

 

book: Three Weeks Dead (2016) by Rebecca Bradley

The second of two British crime novellas that I’ve read in a row rounds out April. The book that I started last night after I’d finished this one is just under 600 pages long, so I doubt I’ll have it finished by the beginning of May . . .

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Software genius Jason Wells recently lost his beloved wife Lisa to a car accident. Now he’s contacted by criminals who’ve removed her body from its grave and promise to feed it, piece by piece, to dogs unless he steals from his employers a copy of a new code designed to thwart ATM thieves. As far as Jason sees it, he has no choice.

DC Sally Poynter, a newbie in the department headed by Bradley’s series hero DI Hannah Robbins, is tasked with, among other things, being the cops’ primary liaison with Jason. Can she persuade him not to hand the code over to the bad guys? Failing that, can the team nab said bad guys before they’ve had a chance to do anything with the stolen code?

The narrative flows pleasingly except in a few places where non sequiturs and imparsable sentences suggested to me that the text could have done with a final read-through after the completion of editing. I’d say this represented a peril of self-publishing except that, more and more, I find examples in professionally published books as well.

Despite those glitches, and despite a few plot implausibilities that it’s best not to dwell on while reading (they only really began to hit me after I’d finished the book), this is a pretty solid police procedural, and bodes well for the rest of Bradley’s series.

book: Blackwater Lake (2015) by Maggie James

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Matthew Stanyer’s childhood was ruined by his mother Evie’s obsessive hoarding — he could never bring friends back to a house where you could barely move for the stacks of junk crowding out every room and passageway — and he moved away from home as soon as he could. Now he’s back in Bristol to help father Joe cope with an increasingly demented Evie. And then one night Joe takes Evie to the nearby Blackwater Park, where he smothers her before drowning himself in the lake.

It’s left to Matthew to go through the accumulated junk of the decades preparatory to selling the old family home. In so doing, he unearths Continue reading

book: The Murder of Eleanor Pope (1956) by Henry Kuttner

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(Henry Kuttner and his wife C.L. Moore collaborated on a lot of their fiction, whatever the name under which it was published, to the extent that it’s hard to distinguish who wrote what. Here, for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to mock-assume that what was published as by Kuttner was indeed by Kuttner writing solo.)

I know Henry Kuttner from his sf/fantasy work, and in particular his short stories: his Bypass to Otherness is not just one of my favorite sf/fantasy collections but also among the best short-story collections I’ve read (and reread), whatever the genre. (Don’t be deceived by its vastly inferior companion, Return to Otherness, or even by The Best of Henry Kuttner: Bypass to Otherness is the one to get.)

Until very recently I hadn’t really registered that he also wrote some mysteries. Thanks to Diversion Books, the four Michael Gray novels are now available as a reasonably priced ebook omnibus.

Series protagonist Michael Gray is a San Francisco psychoanalyst. In this outing he takes on a new patient, Howard Dunne, marginally against his own better judgement, because he can sense that Dunne is a dangerous man. In their early sessions, Dunne brags about his sexual conquests and hints that he may have been responsible for the recent unsolved murder of Eleanor Pope, his sister-in-law, a gambling addict and promiscuous adulteress. Dunne soon backs away from this hint, but Gray senses that this twisted, conflicted man could indeed be capable of murder.

Interviewing those around Dunne — his wife Mary, her brother, the domineering Sam Pope, and the man who wants Mary to divorce Dunne and marry him instead, Art Farragut — Gray learns that Dunne is, so to speak, not the most reliable of narrators. However, by the time he has managed to unearth the secrets that Dunne has been trying to keep from him, there have been two more murders . . .

Because of Gray’s profession, this novel is made up primarily of conversations — either in his office or with his old police pal Harry Zucker. For some this might make the tale seem drearily static, I’m sure, but I actually enjoyed the fact that the action was intellectual rather than physical: there’s excitement to be found in the play of ideas, just as much as there is in fisticuffs. That said, while those ideas — many of them related to sex and sexuality — must have seemed pretty trailblazing in 1956, today they’re very much less radical. Similarly, the fact that, while psychoanalysis was regarded as valid science back then, it’s now recognized as pseudoscience does somewhat pull out the tale’s underpinning. (Gray occasionally talks about psychotherapy instead, which may have been Kuttner hedging his bets a little.)

All in all, then, while I’d be reluctant to describe the book as dated, on reading it today one does find constant reminders of its age. Of course, you could say the same about Raymond Chandler or Ngaio Marsh . . .

The mystery at the heart of The Murder of Eleanor Pope isn’t an especially complicated one, but I found it very intriguing to watch Gray approaching it from the stance not of a gumshoe or standard amateur detective but through psychoanalytic deduction. I certainly plan to read more of these.

They Never Learn (1956)

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Recorded in a bathroom?
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UK / 46 minutes / bw / E.J. Fancey Productions, New Realm Dir & Scr: Denis L. Kavanagh, Edwin J. Fancey Pr: Edwin J. Fancey Cine: Hal Morey Cast: John Blyth (i.e., John Blythe), Jackie Collins, Graham Stark, Adrienne Scott, Michael Partridge, Ken Hayward, John Crowhurst, Campbell Singer (voice), Diana Chesney, Geoff Roberts, Brian Goff, Jack Gray, Robert Vince, Joyce Jeffery PLUS, as Holloway inmates, Fay Witmond, Dorothy English, Joyce C. Maloney, Jean Rice, Gladys Clark, June Pennock, Dorothy Budman, Anita Ellery, Pauline Hedgecock, Irene Cast.

A quota quickie that’s so bumblingly amateurish that it’s really quite fun to watch: it’s not a movie that’s “so bad it’s good” (a trope to which I’ve never much subscribed) but one that seems almost puppyishly anxious to please. The incompetence is puppyish too. If you prefer your crime movies to be lean, smoothly powerful Dobermans, then They Never Learn isn’t for you. But, if your heart really belongs to that three-month mongrel pup from the pound that’s wagging its tail in a blur and could well wet the floor in its eagerness to be tickled behind the ears, then you have a treat in store.

Which is all to say that They Never Learn is a thoroughly bad movie but I enjoyed it even so.

Adrienne Scott as WPC Marie Watson.

One oddity is that the sound effects have clearly been added separately. All the dialogue, too, has been very obviously dubbed on afterwards, and not especially adroitly. (It gives the impression, in fact, of having been Continue reading

book: Force of Nature (2017) by Jane Harper

I read Jane Harper’s debut novel The Dry last year and enjoyed it very much, so when I spotted its successor I grabbed it. And quite rightly so, as I discovered: if anything I like Force of Nature the better of the two novels, which is saying something.

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A Melbourne company sends ten of its employees — five men and five women — on two separate weekend-long “bonding” expeditions into the remote Giralang bushlands. The men’s expedition passes off without any real hitch, but the women manage to take a single wrong turn early on and, as a result, become hopelessly lost. When they eventually straggle out of the wilderness they’re missing one of their number.

As a major search gets under way, Continue reading

o/t: a policy change

For some years now I’ve been putting monthly roundups here of the book notes that I post on Goodreads, with links to the individual posts. My scribbles about movies have, of course, been posted here at Noirish.

More and more I’ve been wondering if this isn’t sometimes an artificial distinction: at least some of the books I write about on Goodreads fall into the same general territory that Noirish regards as its own — noir (in the broadest sense of the term), psychological thrillers, parodies thereof, old mysteries, other stuff of associational interest, B- and indie movies that have caught my attention, oddities, occasional it’s-my-site-and-I‘ll-decide-what-belongs-here movies . . .

So I’ve decided that, in future, I’ll crosspost here, as they appear, my Goodreads notes on books that seem relevant to this site’s theme (such as it can be discerned).

I’ll be putting the new policy into effect very soon indeed (before cooking supper if I get my act together, after eating it if I don’t). First up, an Australian mystery/psychological thriller that I enjoyed very much indeed.

Room 327 (2009)

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What is the secret of Room 327?
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US / 19 minutes / bw / Dead Leaf, Lucky Studio XIII Dir & Scr: Glenn Payne Pr: Glenn Payne, John Wee Cine: John Wee Cast: Carlton Wall, Michelle Payne, Daniel Lee, Brandon Murphree.

A young man, John (Wall), books into Room 327 at the Mockingbird Suites, as instructed by a note from whoever has kidnapped his unnamed girlfriend (Payne)—or it could be his wife, or his sister: the relationship is never made clear beyond the fact that, clearly, he cares very much about her. With him he has a satchel that we assume contains the ransom payment.

Carlton Wall as John.

Although he doesn’t notice it until later, when he enters the room its ashtray contains a freshly lit, still smoking cigarette.

Instructions come to him from an anonymous voice (Murphree) on the phone: he must Continue reading